4 ways to actually enjoy a road trip with toddler

This article was written by Ryan Howard, founder of Smart Parent Advice.

Parenthood is a funny thing. One minute, you’re holding a newborn in your arms, flooded with emotion and overwhelmed with responsibility. Then, slowly but surely, you become an expert and time really starts to fly. As time moves along, you’re probably going to create all sorts of memories. Some of these will be milestone events like birthday parties, and others will just be funny things that happen as you go through life with your kids. One great way to create memories is to take a trip together. In this article, I’m offering up some guidance on how to plan a road trip with toddler in tow.

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1. Pick The Right Destination

Before you can start planning your road trip, you should begin with the end in mind. In other words, just where should you go? There is a good chance that the trip itself won’t be the most fun thing in the world for parents or toddlers. So, it can be a good idea to pick a destination that everyone will enjoy.

Hit The Beach

If you’re lucky enough to live within driving range of the beach, this can be a great family-friendly destination. Parents get to enjoy the sunshine and crashing sound of the waves. Toddlers get to enjoy running around in the sand, building sandcastles, and putting their feet in the water. Beaches are the perfect way to get some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors after spending some time in the car.

Amusement Park

Amusement parks can be an absolute blast for your toddler, as long as they have enough age-appropriate rides and activities. Parents tend to love them or hate them. So, depending on your personal preference, this might be a fun idea.

Get Close To Nature

Beyond beaches, there are all sorts of ways to enjoy nature. You might find a destination with great hiking. Or, you might look for a lake where you can rent a paddleboat. Toddlers love exploring and adventure. So, doing something fun outside can be super active and stimulating.


If you live within driving distance to your child’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, then a family visit can make a lot of sense. After all, toddlers tend to be widely adored by just about everyone. Plus, kids change so much and so fast during toddlerdom that each family visit will be different and special.

car and camper on a roadtrip with toddler driving in Bryce NP
Toddlers love exploring in stunning National Parks

2. Timing Is Everything

One key thing to think about when you’re planning a road trip is just when should you hit the road. The most important things to think through here revolve around eating and sleeping. While you might think it makes sense for everyone to get out of bed, and into the car, this often doesn’t make for the most pleasant trip. While you’ll arrive at your destination earlier this way, there is a good chance that your toddler won’t feel like sitting in a car for several hours after a long night in bed.

Late Morning Departure

My favorite time to hit the road is late morning. If you’re toddler wakes up at 6am, you might have breakfast together and then spend some time playing. I like to do a mid-morning snack around 9:30am or 10am and then hit the road after that. While it might not be nap time yet, a lot of kids will fall asleep in the car after a nice snack. So, you can start making nice, peaceful progress toward your destination.

Then, when your little one wakes up from their nap, it might be time to stop for lunch. Everyone gets to take a break from being in the car for a little while, and by the time you get back in, at least you will be a whole lot closer to your destination.

toddler sleeping in their car seat during a long drive
That heavenly moment when your toddler is finally asleep!

An Evening Drive

Another good option is to hit the road around bedtime. Just treat this night like any other night. Have dinner, give your child a bath, brush their teeth, read a story, and do whatever else you normally would do for your bedtime routine. Then, instead of putting your little one down to bed, pop them into their car seat and hit the road. By leaving at bedtime, there is a good chance that your toddler will sleep through the entire drive. Plus, by getting a late start, you might just avoid all the traffic that you would normally hit.

Of course, you know your own toddler best. These times work really well for my kids, but pick the times that work best for you.

3. Stop And Smell The Roses

When you’re planning a trip, you might think that the primary objective is to reach your destination. This is true enough. However, instead of thinking about the road trip as a means to an end, I would encourage you to try and make the most of the journey itself. Now, I understand that spending several hours in a car with your toddler might not be your idea of fun, but hear me out.

Instead of taking a four-hour drive, what if you took four one hour drives? This can be accomplished by planning a few stops along the way. You might drive for an hour and then stop someplace to get a bite to eat. Then, after another short drive, you might stop someplace so that your little one can get out and run around. Parks and playgrounds are a perfect place to burn off a little energy. But, even shopping malls can offer your child a place to stretch their legs. Now, fair warning, there is a good chance that your little one will want to run around after so much time cooped up in the car. So, it might be a good idea to bring a toddler harness with you when you get out.

2 toddles chasing each other
The best way to spend stops: let your toddler run around!

4. What To Bring On Your Trip


Long car rides have a tendency to get a bit boring for toddlers. So, it can be a good idea to bring some entertainment. A few stuffed animals, toy cars, picture books, or anything else that occupies your toddler’s imagination can be a good idea.

TIP: find inspiration in our 20+ travel toys to entertain a toddler on a plane article. It has some awesome ideas that would be great in the car as well!


A little driving music can help set a good mood as well. You might even enjoy belting out a few tunes together as a family.


Then, there are snacks. Snacks are not exactly a form of entertainment. But, they can help keep everyone in good spirits.

TIP: check out some great snack ideas and other ways to eat healthy while traveling with kids here!

Other items

One other thing that can make a big difference on a long trip is a good window shade. Window shades help keep the sun out of your little one’s eyes, and thus set the stage for a restful and relaxing trip.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps the biggest key to having a successful road trip is maintaining a positive attitude. Even a good road trip is bound to have a few frustrating moments. But, the rewards are absolutely worth the challenges. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Author Bio: Ryan Howard runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Ryan writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase for babies and toddlers.

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